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Develop more seaports outside Lagos

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Warri Port

A report that the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has cancelled the contract for the $2.6 billion Badagry deep seaport because of a wrongly done master plan is a welcome development provided that the port regulator remains committed towards decentralising seaports in the country.

It is incomprehensible and unjustifiable why all the seaport projects are focused on congested Lagos, when other equally viable ports that should be developed to decongest the metropolis have been curiously abandoned.

That all the functional ports – Apapa and Tin Can Island’s are all western ports and yet new ones are being planned for Lekki and Badagry, is tantamount to abandoning the other important seaports in the South-South axis that should be developed to decongest Lagos.

This newspaper has repeatedly noted that the ports in Calabar, Port Harcourt, Warri, Burutu, Sapele, Escravos, Forcados and Onne are lying fallow while the nation puts all her eggs in one basket. It is not strategically wise to do that. For security reasons, there is no wisdom in having all the nation’s ports in Lagos. A good Ports Master Plan should create alternative ports for efficiency and national interest.

The Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Hajia Hadiza-Bala Usman, who disclosed the cancellation of the Badagry Port project, explained that the agency had begun the process for fresh bids for the approval of a new port master plan for the deep seaport project.

According to her, “the Outline Business Case (OBC) for Badagry deep seaport was reviewed. Some of the responsibilities of the government were taken and put in the OBC for Badagry port. I have objected to that and written to the Federal Ministry of Transportation on this.”

She said she has also written letters to the promoters of the Badagry deep seaport, telling them that roles like marine services are responsibilities of the government as stipulated within the Port Act. So they cannot take it away and say they are going to provide such services.

“We are currently discussing with them to review the projects OBC so that it states what their obligations are and what the government’s obligations are,” the NPA chief executive noted.

The point at issue is not who does what at the port but the rationale for building another port in Lagos when the city is daily choked with a killer traffic gridlock. Even without a port at Badagry, the Lagos-Seme highway is already congested by various human activities. There is no efficient rail system. It would, therefore, be foolhardy to compound the gridlock by building another seaport in Badagry at this time.

Whereas, the Federal Government had emphasised the need to establish deep seaports to decongest Apapa port, the ports in Port Harcourt, Calabar and Onne should be given priority more than presidential directive on Lagos port decongestion.

The port master plan in view, should be comprehensive enough to guide on whether it is right to have two deep seaports close to each other in Lagos State. It is unfortunate that Nigeria, which should be a powerful maritime nation, is lagging behind in terms of efficient port operations.

With the horrifying traffic gridlock plaguing Apapa ports in Lagos, it takes an average of one month for container-bearing trailers to access the ports owing to dilapidated roads. This has negatively impacted on port operations and made importers and exporters incur huge overhead costs.

The only way out is to decentralise port operations by opening up the other ports outside Lagos. There is deadly congestion in Lagos because the other ports are not functional. It is incredible why there has been no sense of urgency on this despite our recent suggestion that even the president should pay an unscheduled visit to the Apapa and Tin Can Island’s ports.

It is only then that the parlous state of the ports in Lagos can receive attention. It makes no sense to import goods that are meant to be used in Port Harcourt through Lagos and then have it transported overland by trucks and not even by rail. That pressure on the highway infrastructure contributes to highway failure too.

Specifically, the coastal states in the South-South should be allowed by the federal authorities to develop ports in their areas and operate them. This is part of the fine features of true federalism the president has been speaking to in recent weeks.

Ports should be run by the immediate administrative authorities where they are located. This newspaper has been consistent in its suggestion that the Apapa Local Government Council, in whose jurisdiction the Apapa ports are located, should be involved in their running as in other climes. The monopoly, which the Federal Government alone commands on our ports without involving the states and local governments, is unjust and counterproductive.

In other words, federalism would give power to local authorities to manage their resources and critical infrastructure more efficiently. Over-centralisation of management and control of critical infrastructure has held the country down. The current managing director of NPA should not be afraid of federalism as it affects ports operations. It is an idea whose time has come.


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